The Vietnam Era
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Iowa National Guard underwent several reorganizations. Two of the most significant changes involved the 113th Cavalry Squadron and the 34th Infantry Division. In 1949, the 113th Mechanized Cavalry Squadron was redesignated as the 113th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. In 1959, it was converted and redesignated as the 113th Armor. In 1963, the 34th Infantry Division was deactivated. Happily, for those many Iowans aware of the acclaimed World War II achievements of both organizations, they were returned to the rolls of the Iowa National Guard in the early 1990s.
Additional changes to the structure of the Guard followed the 1961 Berlin Crisis. In 1961, as a result of heightened tensions following East Germany’s construction of the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy ordered a partial mobilization of the National Guard and the Army Reserve. One hundred and fifty thousand soldiers were activated to serve as replacements for Regular Army troops being sent to Germany. The Guard and Reserve were caught unprepared. Nearly all units were under strength and inadequately equipped. After the Korean War, the Department of Defense had never allocated reserve component units 100% of their strength and equipment tables. The Kennedy administration designed a program to improve both the Guard and the Reserve, paring their number somewhat but emphasizing increased training for those who remained.
A major aspect of the reorganizational efforts of the 1960s was the creation of the Selective Reserve Force (SRF). Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara believed that, since funding was not available to train and equip the entire National Guard adequately, he would focus on preparing a core group of 150,000 Guardsmen for immediate overseas deployment, if needed. SRF units were supposed to be authorized at 100% strength, receive priority training funds and modern equipment. Ultimately, two elements of the Iowa National Guard received SRF designation – the 2nd Battalion (Mechanized), 133rd Infantry, and the 3657th Ordnance Company. In 1968, one of these organizations, the "Second Mech," along with the 185th Tactical Fighter Group of the Iowa Air National Guard, was mobilized for service in the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was, in many ways, a natural outgrowth of America’s foreign policy after World War II. Postwar diplomatic and military efforts focused on containing the growing threat of international communism. A system of military alliances was established, including NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). Programs of economic assistance were created to alleviate the social and economic conditions that often spawned revolutionary movements. In addition, the United States encouraged its two principal European allies, Britain and France, to gradually dismantle their colonial empires and grant independence to their colonial subjects.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the British granted independence to one colony after another. The French, however, stubbornly tried to hang on to their colonial possessions. In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, France attempted to restore its authority over Vietnam, its one-time colony, which it had abandoned to the Japanese during World War II. Opposing the French were the powerful nationalist forces of Ho Chi Minh.
Ho, a long-time communist, was the inspirational leader of the Viet Minh, a revolutionary movement that controlled seven provinces in the northern part of Vietnam at the end of World War II. By 1954, Ho was receiving substantial aid from both communist China and the Soviet Union. The United States, fearing Ho’s communist connections, had been paying most of France’s war costs since 1950. In early 1954, Ho’s increasingly powerful military forces dealt the French a decisive defeat at Dienbienphu and forced the French government to the conference table.
"The Geneva Accords of July, 1954, to which the United States was not a party, established a supposedly temporary division of Vietnam along the 17th Parallel. The north would be governed by Ho Chi Minh, the south by a pro-Western regime. Democratic elections would serve as the basis for uniting the nation in 1956." (Brinkley, Alan, American History; A Survey, McGraw-Hill, 1991, p. 875) The United States helped to establish a pro-American government in the south, headed by Ngo Dinh Diem, a wealthy leader of South Vietnam’s Roman Catholic minority. The Diem government soon reneged on the promised elections. Diem was suspicious that the Viet Minh would rig elections in the north. He was also fearful of Ho Chi Minh’s general popularity throughout the country.
"Ngo Dinh Diem (was) an unfortunate choice as the basis of American hopes for a noncommunist South Vietnam. Autocratic, aristocratic and corrupt, he staunchly resisted any economic reforms that would weaken the position of the Vietnamese upper class and the power of his own family. A belligerent Roman Catholic in a nation with many Buddhists, he invited dissent through his efforts to limit the Buddhist religion." (Brinkley, p. 904) By the late 1950s, a powerful insurgency was growing throughout South Vietnam – an insurgency encouraged and supplied, in large part, by the government of the north. In 1960, this civil war intensified, as communist guerillas (known as the Viet Cong) organized the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.
Faced with a steadily deteriorating political and military position, Diem appealed to the United States for help. Although Diem was soon to be toppled from power, three American presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson) would respond with ever increasing aid, both weapons and military advisers, to shore up a succession of shaky military governments in South Vietnam. Still, in August of 1964, there were only about 20,000 American military personnel serving in South Vietnam.
Late in 1964, the American involvement in South Vietnam would escalate into a full-fledged war. Responding to an attack by North Vietnamese gunboats on a U. S. destroyer, supposedly in international waters, President Lyndon Johnson received congressional authorization to "take any necessary measures to protect American forces and prevent further aggression" in Southeast Asia.
From 1965 until 1972, hundreds of thousands of U. S. soldiers would serve in an increasingly unpopular war, combating a foe whose strength lay not in weaponry but in a pervasive infiltration of the population. American and South Vietnamese forces controlled major urban areas and won most of the conventional battles. They failed in a more important area, however – the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people, especially those living in rural areas. (Brinkley, p. 909)
Richard Nixon succeeded Lyndon Johnson as president in 1969. For the next four years, Nixon attempted to mute public criticism of the war by a new policy, which he termed "Vietnamization" – training and equipping the South Vietnamese military to assume the burden of combat in place of American forces. In January of 1973, a tenuous peace settlement allowed for the withdrawal of the last American troops in South Vietnam and for the release of several hundred American prisoners of war.
American forces were hardly out of Indochina before the Paris agreement collapsed. During the first year after the cease-fire, the contending Vietnamese armies suffered greater battle losses than the Americans had endured in ten years of fighting. (Brinkley, p. 939) In March of 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a full-scale offensive. The government of South Vietnam appealed to the United States for assistance, but Congress refused President Gerald Ford’s request for additional funds. Finally, in late April, communist forces marched into Saigon, and the Vietnam War came to an end.
The Vietnam War was both frustrating and disillusioning to the United States. The war cost the nation $150 billion. It resulted in the deaths of 55,000 young Americans and the injury of 300,000 others. It led to major policy reassessments by both America’s diplomatic and military leaders.
While the Vietnam War had resulted in a bitter outcome, American soldiers, including members of the Iowa National Guard, had fought with bravery and honor. In 1968, units from both the Iowa Air National Guard and the Iowa Army National Guard were mobilized into federal service. It marked the first such mobilizations for both organizations since the Korean War.
On January 26, 1968, the 185th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG), Iowa Air National Guard, from Sioux City, was mobilized, together with the 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS), its subordinate unit. The 174th, along with three other Air National Guard fighter squadrons, flying F-100 aircraft, were ordered to Vietnam. The 174th TFS, codenamed "Bats," flew over 6,500 close air support and bombing/strafing missions from its base at Phu Cat. The performance of the 174th TFS earned the Presidential Unit Citation Award and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. Individuals were awarded 12 Silver Stars, 35 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 30 Bronze Stars. Other members of the 185th TFG were assigned as individuals throughout the Air Force. The Group returned to state control on May 28, 1969.
The 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry (Mechanized), Iowa Army National Guard, was also mobilized during the Vietnam War. The battalion was part of the Selective Reserve Force (SRF). The "Second Mech,’ with units located at Sioux City, Le Mars, Sheldon, Cherokee, Ida Grove and Mapleton, was mobilized on May 13, 1968, assigned to the 69th Infantry Brigade (Kansas Army National Guard) and stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Although the battalion colors remained at Fort Carson, 264 officers and enlisted men were ordered to duty in Vietnam. Twelve soldiers of the battalion were killed and 76 were wounded in action. Members of the battalion received over 2,600 awards and decorations for their Vietnam service. The battalion returned to state control on December 13, 1969.
Lieutenant General (LTG) Roger C. Schultz, former Director of the Army National Guard (1998 -2005), was mobilized as a Platoon Leader for Company B, 2nd Battalion 133nd Infantry. After the battalion was joined with the 69th Infantry Brigade at Fort Carson, 2d Lieutenant Schultz volunteered for duty in Vietnam and served as a Platoon Leader with the 22nd Infantry Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. During that tour he earned both a Silver and Bronze Star, a Combat Infantry Badge plus two Purple Hearts. After he returned from duty in Vietnam, Schultz served as a Company Commander, a Battalion Commander, a Brigade Commander, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, Chief of Staff, and finally Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard. LTG Schultz served as the Deputy Director for Military Support (DOMS) on the Department of the Army Staff and later was selected to serve as the Director of the Army National Guard. LTG Schultz was the only Guardsman mobilized for the Vietnam War that would obtain three-star rank.
The 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry was reorganized into the 1st Squadron 113th Cavalry in 1989. The Cavalry is in the communities of Sioux City, Le Mars and Des Moines. The 2168th Transportation Company is stationed in Sheldon and Company C, 1st Battalion 168th Infantry is located on Camp Dodge in Johnston. The Ida Grove, Cherokee and Mapleton Armories have been consolidated with other units to maintain historical lineage. Russell V. Bierl, COL (Ret) FA